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The Independent Critic

Jason Farrell
51 Mins.
FilmWorks Entertainment
Behind-the-Scenes Featurette; Trailer; Photo Gallery

 "Running With Bulls" Explores Pamplona's Most Controversial Tradition 
In his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, author Ernest Hemingway introduced Americans to el encierro, the Running of the Bulls, an event that is considered by most to be the culmination of the San Fermin Festival. Each morning for seven days, six fighting bulls will race through the narrow streets of the normally sleepy town of Pamplona surrounded by thousands of thrill-seekers from all over the world.

Participation in el encierro is not for the timid or easily frightened. While safety measures are taken and emergency medical crews are always nearby, Pamplona's Bull Run is said to have taken 15 lives since records started being kept in 1924 while a good 200-300 people are injured, some quite seriously, in the event each year.

In his stellar documentary Running With Bulls, writer/director Jason Farrell, a journalist from the U.K.'s Sky News, explores both the passion and the controversies that surround Pamplona's Bull Run, an event that seems to attract more and more attention each year from animal rights activists who protest in increasingly large numbers over the time-honored tradition of the afternoon bullfight that follows each day's morning run with the bulls being ritually slaughtered by Matadors in a large stadium jam-packed with 20,000+ cheering fans.

The San Fermin Festival in Pamplona has its roots in the 14th century, and by 1591 was firmly planted as a July festival to take advantage of Pamplona's festival friendly weather during the month. While it's certainly experienced many changes over the years, the festival is at its very essence a festival that weaves together the city's cultural heritage, commitment to family and religious traditions into a week-long festival celebrating life and shared history.

While the San Fermin Festival is wildly popular in Spain, it is the Pamplona Bull Run that has captured the hearts and imaginations of the entire world largely owing to Hemingway's romanticizing of both the festival and the Bull Run. There are other Bull Runs around the world, even in the United States. However, none has captured the heart and soul of a people like the Bull Run in Pamplona.

Through visual imagery, a captivating narration and straightforward yet well informed interviews, Farrell has beautifully captured the heart and soul of what it means to run with bulls while surrounded by thousands of other risk-takers, spiritual seekers and adrenaline junkies in an event that emphasizes communal spirit and camaraderie over personal achievement and competition. While certainly those who participate in the Running of the Bulls have a goal to finish the event unscathed, the simple truth is that this may be one of the few sporting events where the journey is of far greater importance than the destination.

Running With Bulls benefits greatly from the pristine and natural camera work of Adam Cottam and Paul Mackeson, who lens the film wisely by avoiding unnecessary dramatics and trick shots in favor of the inherently dramatic stories themselves. The film is edited quite naturally by Andre Rosso, whose sense of timing allows the more dramatic moments to unfold without feeling rushed or forced. Farrell also includes within the film an abundance of archival footage from past Pamplona Bull Runs, events that unfold in grainier, less pristine footage yet still with remarkably dramatic impact.

Farrell also does a nice job of balancing his portrait of the Pamplona Bull Run by passionately presenting both the rich history behind the event and the growing controversy that threatens to derail its continuation. While it seems rather apparent that Farrell has an obvious affection the event and its participants, he doesn't take lightly the important questions of how such an event can continue to exist in a world where insurance seems to rule the world and where the intentional killing of the bulls in question at event's end seems particularly and unnecessarily brutal.

To his credit, Farrell doesn't try to serve up any easy answers during the 51-minute running time of Running with Bulls, but instead serves as a facilitator of the discussion. How do we honor cultural traditions while acknowledging that times change? Is it possible to have an event such as the Pamplona Bull Run? Is there a way for the event to accomplish the seemingly conflicted tasks of honoring a rich cultural heritage while also protecting both its human and animal participants?

Does it even matter? While the protestors have grown in numbers, thousands of participants still show up each year for the Bull Run and, at least for now, the voices supporting the event remain far louder than those who oppose it.

Running with Bulls has been picked up by FilmWorks Entertainment for release on all platforms including DVD and iTunes with a street date of October 16, 2012. The DVD extras will include a behind-the-scenes featurette, the film's trailer and a photo gallery. For those who've long found themselves drawn to the almost otherworldly mystique that surrounds the Pamplona Bull Run, Jason Farrell's Running with Bulls is an opportunity to experience the event vividly yet from the safety of your own home. For more information or to pre-order the film, visit the link listed in the credits.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic